Fabian Cowdrey: 'If I do Cowdrey name justice, I'll be happy'
Grandson of the great MCC and son of Chris, the latest member of famous cricketing clan has plenty to live up to
Friday 27 April 2012
It was a dynasty which began on 19 August 1950 when Colin Cowdrey – handed the initials MCC to avoid any uncertainty over his sporting future – took to the field for Kent in a County Championship match against Derbyshire.
Now, 62 years on, the Cowdrey baton has been passed on to his grandson, a 19-year-old who is all too aware of the weight of history resting squarely on his shoulders.
Last October, Fabian Cowdrey, the son of Chris and nephew of Graham, was faced with the choice of heading to university in Cardiff or joining the playing staff at Kent. Unsurprisingly, for a man who boasts arguably the most famous surname in English cricket, it wasn't a tough decision.
"It was a big moment when it was offered to me," he says. "I got a phone call from the coach at the time, Paul Farbrace. It was probably the proudest moment of my life so far and I wanted to take it full-on, I didn't want to miss the winter and then the first two months of the season because I was at university.
"My mum and my dad were over the moon. It was a nice moment, a really nice moment. My uncle Graham called me up. The family knew what it meant to me to try and follow the dynasty that they put in place, hopefully I can do it justice."
The offer from Kent came just months after Cowdrey had rewritten the record books at Tonbridge, the school that also nurtured the extraordinary talents of his grandfather between 1946 and 1950.
Colin made his Tonbridge debut in his first year and became the youngest cricketer ever to play at Lord's when he inspired the school to a two-wicket win over Clifton, with scores of 75 and 44 with the bat, while taking three for 58 and five for 59 with the ball.
His run-scoring record would one day be surpassed by his own son, Chris, but both now find themselves behind the latest cricketer from a production line that began with Fabian's great-grandfather Ernest in India over 80 years ago.
This Cowdrey scored a record 1,252 at an average of 83.47 at Tonbridge last season, scoring five centuries and seven 50s. In doing so he brought up the 3,000th run of his schoolboy career, surpassing his grandfather's career total of 2,894 runs in his final year.
"In my first couple of years [at Tonbridge] people expected me to do things out of the norm, break into all sorts of teams and break records," he says. "In the end I did break records for run-scoring at the school but it wasn't an easy ride. I put a lot of pressure on myself when I was a youngster, I always wanted to do what my grandad and my dad did. I broke Jonny Longley's all-time record, and scored about 300 more runs than my dad and grandad but ultimately that doesn't mean too much. The wickets in my grandad's day certainly wouldn't have been as good – if he had played on the current Tonbridge wickets then he would have scored ridiculous amounts of runs.
"I'm in the top three run-scorers in history at the school now, so that's very humbling but although it's great to be up there, school cricket is just that – school cricket. I need to move on to the next level where my dad and grandad had most of their success."
Whereas his grandfather honed his skills on the Touramulla tea estate in Bangalore, where servants would bowl to the prodigiously talented youngster and a penalty of exchanging bat for ball would be issued if he played a cross-batted shot, Fabian developed his game in the rather more earthy surroundings of his back garden, batting against his brother Julius and his father, who captained England once against West Indies during the ill-fated summer of 1988.
"Cricket was everything to me when I was growing up," he says. "The first thing I remember was being in the garden with my dad, my uncle and my brother at the age of four or five. We just wanted to hit balls the whole time but it was never forced upon me, it was always something I wanted to do, whether because it ran in the family, or I had seen it on television or seen my dad play in a charity fixture. I've lived and breathed it since I was very young.
"My grandad watched my first ever cricket match. I was only six years old and was playing for the school's under-9 side. That was the only game he ever saw me play in because he passed away the following year [in December 2000]. That's a memory I'll always treasure because I hit the winning runs."
Of course, his surname is not an easy one to carry around when you're a cricketer, as Fabian's father found in his career. Chris Cowdrey made his debut as an all-rounder against India in 1984 but despite taking a wicket in his first over – his dismissal of Kapil Dev silenced the Mumbai crowd and sent his own father, who was listening to Test Match Special, the wrong way up a one-way street – he could never hope to match Colin's towering achievements. Not that he was anything other than his own man throughout his highly entertaining 15-year career with Kent and Glamorgan.
"It's great to have a dad who has had such a great career in the game," says Fabian. "It's interesting to speak to him about the pressures he faced when he broke into the Kent side, and that can help me. He has mentioned [the England captaincy], I've asked him, but he got injured in his first game as captain and never got picked again so it's quite a tough topic.
"Technique-wise I think we're all very different. There's a video called the Cricketing Cowdreys which analysed my grandad, my dad and my uncle and the variations in their technique. You could just tell that my grandad was very technical in the way he played, whereas dad and Graham relied more on power and took the bowlers on. Me? I'd like to think I adapt my technique according to the situation I'm faced with."
Regardless of his technique, the sight of the Cowdrey name on any teamsheet has been enough to ensure some chin music for the young man from Kent since he first broke into the county's age-group sides, a trend that will surely continue as he makes his way in county cricket.
"That's inevitable," he says. "Every time I go out to bat, people have decided that if they can get to me then they'll do it by talking about my surname. You just have to ignore it. If I can go out there and get a hundred or take a five-for [he is a slow left-armer who bowls for Kent in one-day games], then they won't go on about it next time. I get more bouncers, whether that's because they think I don't play the short ball too well I'm not sure. It inspires me, to be honest."
Fabian has already emulated father and grandfather by winning international honours with England's under-15 side. If the runs begin to flow at Kent, a whole new section of that Cricketing Cowdreys video may need to be added.
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